Mystical Tour Parshat Chayei Sarah: Three Pillars of Existence
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Chayei Sarah(Genesis 23:1-25:18)

Three Pillars of Existence

In the Book of Genesis, the Torah quickly passes through thousands of years of history without going into details of individuals - until it reaches Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. These three people are singled out for a special relationship with the Almighty.

Surely there were many special people on the planet, other righteous individuals. We even have a tradition that there was a house of learning built by Noah's son, Shem, that taught a form of ethical monotheism.

But no one was able to reach such a level of spiritual greatness that he was singled out. That was accomplished alone by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And these three patriarchs form a unit, sometimes called a "chariot," or an embodiment of the Infinite in this world. Each of them represents a pillar upon which the world stands.

* * *

LOVE, STRENGTH, TRUTH

The Kabbalists explain that our entire existence is based on three principles, the blueprint of everything. Words for these principles only describe a portion of them, as they are beyond words. One set of words used by the mystical writers is Love, Strength and Truth.

Each of the three patriarchs embodied a different trait: Abraham = Love, Isaac = Strength, Jacob = Truth. The character trait became a conduit for spiritual growth. Yet they didn't just have a leaning towards their trait, but they perfected it until they were one with God through that trait.

Abraham constantly looked for opportunities to teach and do kindness for others. Isaac's connection to God was more internal, developing inner strength, and conquering his physical desires. Jacob harmonized both traits of love and inner strength, and through the study of wisdom came to a truth that was the pinnacle of all three traits.

* * *

WE CONTAIN ALL THREE

Each of us contains all three of these traits. We can see these traits perhaps more clearly by connecting them to the three root desires of mankind: (1) the desire for pleasure, (2) the desire to be good, and (3) the desire to understand. We all want all three of these things.

Your desire for pleasure may lead you to seek money, love, children, or to experience the pleasure of doing good things for others. Your desire to be good may also lead you to seek money, love, and children, because these are things society values and this confers you more honor and esteem. Your desire for truth may lead in the same directions for a different reason.

It matters less what you do in the world, and more how and why you are doing it. You may go in the same direction as someone else, and he will be happy, while you are miserable. We need to know what is motivating any action. Because in order to be happy and content, we need to satisfy our soul's desires, our core issue.

Every desire can get sidetracked. Infatuation can be mistaken for love; money can be mistaken for an end as opposed to a means; children can be seen as a limitation as opposed to an opportunity to nurture.

If you think you're satisfying your life's desires yet still feel like something is missing, most likely you are satisfying a physical desire, not a soul desire.

A janitor will generally not be held in high esteem in society. You won't see him in the society column, nor will he be sought as an honoree for the dinner. Yet a janitor has just as much access to holiness as anyone else, with the right intentions: to help others, to do an honest job, etc. A janitor might be more successful than anyone you know at what is really important in the world, and will be for eternity.

It matters less what you do, and more how and why you are doing it.

* * *

ONE SOUL DESIRE

Although we all have these three core motivations, in any individual, one of those three will be dominant. Just like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who each exemplified one trait, we have one desire that drives our main decisions and aspirations.

Rabbi E.E. Dessler (in Michtav M'Eliyahu) explains: You can help a stranger because it's the moral thing to do, or because it gives you pleasure to help others, or because it expresses your understanding of how people should behave. Almost invariably, if you introspect about your daily decisions, you will find that one of these three drives is at the root of your decisions.

The first step in fulfilling your life purpose is to identify which of the three traits is your main motivation in life. Since we have all three, it's not always so easy to identify. But with a little bit of self-knowledge we can come to the truth.

Some people ask me to help them find their life purpose, and what they mean by that is to help them find the "thing" they should be doing, like being a doctor or a chef or a homemaker. But it really doesn't matter. What matters more is how and why you are doing whatever it is you are doing.

Certainly we should take a look at what things we like to do and what things we have a talent for. That's how God hints at what "thing" we should be doing. But a doctor who isn't whole with his one trait (Love, Strength or Truth), and doesn't understand his soul desire within that trait, may end up ruining his life and others. He might start an Internet business writing fake prescriptions for people so he can make a quick fortune. It doesn't matter if he likes being a doctor and he's good at it. He's missing the boat.

Let's try an example. What experience would you rather have: (A) have an ecstatic prophecy and become one with the Infinite, (B) bring about world peace, or (C) have an epiphany of knowing all the wisdom that there is to know? (A) is pleasure, (B) is good, and (C) is truth.

Finding your core trait is the beginning of self-knowledge.

* * *

Spiritual Exercise:

Look at the three main desires: the desire to experience pleasure, to be good, and the desire for wisdom. See which one motivates you more strongly and more consistently. That will give you the first step to fulfilling your true life's purpose. And this is your mission ... should you choose to accept it.

Published: October 22, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Richard, November 18, 2011 6:53 PM

Priorities

(A) or (C) would probably make me divine. I don't know if I can handle the responsibility! (-: (B) benefits many more people. As Spock said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

(6) Aliza, November 15, 2011 5:50 PM

Give us a test

How do I know which one I am? My gut tells me I generally live for pleasure but the three options you gave made me lean towards truth and yet I know if I really had the choice I would choose B because it is right. I'm not motivated by being good but I want to be good anyway. I don't know what motivates me most. I still think pleasure but what can I do with that?

(5) molina, November 10, 2009 11:10 AM

Three Pillars of Existence

I appreciate today's parsha! It's very enlightening. Today's rat race economy becoming complex and one would wake up with differring facets, none to have time to think of or medidate upon, but more rather, going just to the flow.

(4) Elishabet, November 20, 2008 11:19 PM

There is love and strength in truth...

This has been most enlightening. I have done a lot of seeking and searching - reading - etc., and finally I have something that really makes sense to me. Thank you Rabbi for your ability to explain in the simplest terms. May the Lord bless you continuously. Elishabet

(3) Steve, November 19, 2008 6:50 PM

This is really good, we need more of this.

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